SCALE, Inc. had been under criminal investigation for more than three months prior to payment
By RON AIKEN
Seven days before SCALE Inc., CEO Patricia “Pat” Ford was indicted by a state grand jury on five counts of perjury for allegedly converting $28,429 of hospitality-tax funds for personal use, Richland County wrote Ford a check for $14,500, a review by Quorum of county financial records reveals.
If the announcement of the indictment came as a surprise to Richland County Administrator Gerald Seals, who approves all checks, it shouldn’t have: The charity had been under criminal investigation for more than three months prior to the March 15 check.
On Nov. 27, 2016, Quorum published an investigative piece that ran simultaneously in The State newspaper detailing significant improprieties with the charity SCALE, Inc., that included its use of $213,000 in hospitality-tax funds since 2014, the donation of land at Pinewood Lake Park valued at $472,700, and $24,000 for an easement across the dam it owns at Pinewood Lake Park that has been off limits to the public since the floods of October 2015.
On Nov. 28, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation into SCALE that soon was followed by the S.C. Secretary of State, which investigates charities.
On Dec. 14, Quorum confirmed that the FBI had opened its own investigation into SCALE, County Council member Norman Jackson and the Pinewood Lake Park Foundation, another charity he is closely tied to. Six days later Quorum published a story describing in detail how SCALE CEO Patricia “Pat” Ford used fraudulent invoices to write checks from SCALE’s account to pay herself and family members.
Sources inside Richland County government tell Quorum that only Seals or a council member could have authorized such a check.
A review by Quorum of county check records shows SCALE has received $62,000 since July 1, 2016. The other charity Quorum has confirmed that also is under investigation by the FBI and state Attorney General’s office is the Pinewood Lake Park Foundation, which has received $192,500 since July 1, 2016. Quorum first reported on the irregularities involving its director, Liewendelyn Hart, in August 2016. Since that reporting, Hart’s charity has received $130,665. The last check on record for the Pinewood Lake Park Foundation is for $37,500 on Nov. 23, 2016, though current county records only run through March 31 and do not include April.
A query sent Thursday seeking comment from Seals, county spokeswoman Beverly Harris and every member of county council about why the payment was made and whether the county has plans to retrieve the money received no replies.